Reel Big Fish. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Operation Ivy. Sublime. Mustard Plug. Goldfinger Fishbone. If those band names evoke an aura of nostalgia, then you're in my camp - I used to love third-wave ska, what with their happy horns and quirky lyrics and dance-heavy riffs.
I've always wondered if there'd be a documentary chronicling this blip in the music radar, and thankfully two nights ago I saw a new film doing just that. Pick It Up! - Ska in the 90s debuted in Toronto at Gerrard Grand Theatre (thanks for alerting me, Brahm!) and I was smiling the whole time. Something about ska always does that to me.
The film did a fantastic job in offering a history lesson on the first and second waves of ska, most notably how two-tone ska (think The Specials, Skatalites) gave way to a more poppy and giddier form of "fast reggae", as ska has often been labelled. t was illuminating to hear bands like Reel Big Fish and Mustard Plug talk openly about how the public first welcomed the quick rise of ska music, but then got over the trend just as speedily, seeing ska "as cheesy and immature," as Save Ferris singer Monique Powell said in the film.
Viewers will also learn the origin stories of checkerboard shirts, horn sections, skankin dancing, violent mosh pits and ska tunes making it into films such as Clueless. More importantly, the musicianship is discussed in the middle of the film, and that section not only dissects writing certain songs but also honing the on-stage personas for folks like The Aquabats!
I was actually oblivious to the two tipping points for ska in the 90s: No Doubt making it big, and Rancid's Time Bomb going viral on MTV/Muchmusic, legitimizing a punk-rock-jazz trend that began in Orange County, CA, and spread across the US. I guess I always saw Rancid as more punk than ska, but it turned out Time Bomb opened the door to ska in a way that buoyed other bands.
The doc covered a lot of ground, but only in one area I felt it lacking: When it came time to introduce how Sublime influenced the music industry, the filmmakers only got Miguel (a producer) and Brad's wife to speak on camera, as opposed to snagging two of the surviving members of the band, Bud and Eric. Sublime's impact can't be under-stated, so why not interview two of the guys deep in the heart of third-wave ska movement?
There's a reason I went to a Reel Big Fish concert four years ago, long after I amassed RBG and Goldfinger cassettes: unfettered joy and sweaty fun are the key ingredients in a great ska show, and RBG has never failed to entertain me. Maybe it's the blast of the three horns, something I din't see often in a lot of concerts. Maybe it's the lyrics taking me back to the 90s. But it's probably the skankin I break into when all those elements blend smoothly into a heady celebration I don't want to see end anytime soon.
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